THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS
"I'm sorry, the pun was irresistible."
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US
Now, we've seen funny in Who before. The Gunfighters was a hoot. There was all that banter in The Three Doctors. There was even that swordfight in The Sea Devils. But we've never seen a story where the writers are so blatantly, obviously and outrageously taking the piss. Brain Of Morbius is absolutely hilarious.
Robert Holmes has quite the reputation for ripoffs, er, homages to classic stories, but here he outdoes himself. Virtually every aspect of the Frankenstein story is reproduced, what with the lightning, the crazed doctor, the monster, Igor (with included hump), the blind woman, and the death of the monster over a cliff at the hands of torch-carrying villagers. And the whole brain in a jar bit adds another loony element reminiscent not only of The Keys of Marinus but also that schlock classic Spock's Brain ("Brain and brain, what is brain?").
It's primo spoof material, and they go for it rip, shit and bust. The dialogue's knowingly self-referential when it isn't completely over the top, and there are also some pure comedy moments, such as Sarah's violet-seller speech and the Doctor's "I had a little drink about an hour ago" bit. Not to mention the hysterical goldfish-bowl-head monster with the doorknob eyes and Solon's salivating over the Doctor's head. (Not literally, of course, although it comes close at times.) And of course anything involving a brain is a comedy winner (see "Spock's Brain", ibid., and "The Man With Two Brains", for a start.) We were whooping with laughter when the brain hit the floor. Classic stuff.
To work, this kind of stuff depends heavily on the actors entering into the spirit of the thing. Surprise, surprise - Tom Baker and Lis Sladen turn in perfectly judged performances. The Sisterhood are satisfyingly solemn and bug-eyed in the straight roles, and Igor, sorry Condo, hams it up magnificently. Morbius, too, makes the most of some lovely lines of dialogue.
Philip Madoc, in his umpteenth Who role as Solon, however, is a disappointment. If ever a part called for Brian Blessed overkill, it's this one, with superb frothing-at-the-mouth lines like "I'll see that palsied harridan scream for death!". But Madoc's just not trying. He woefully underplays the part, going instead for an almost reasonable, Delgado Master-like characterisation which makes a nonsense of the diva lines. What a wasted opportunity.
But wait, there's more. Mixed in with the comedy, there are some nice dramatic touches in Brain Of Morbius too. The Doctor's reasonable rationality makes a nice point against the Sisterhood's slavish adherence to tradition, as does his use of science to solve the problem of the diminishing flame. He makes some interesting points about the fly-in-amber nature of immortality, too.
It's wonderfully characterising the way the Doctor is more concerned about what's going on than about his imminent death by barbecue. When Sarah is blinded, the Doctor's not sobbing and ranting, but his concern for her is all the more real for this. And Sarah's bravery in managing to lock Solon in his lab and risk her life climbing blind over rocks to warn the Doctor is a lovely touch.
There are also some intriguing disclosures. So the Sisterhood are the peers of the Time Lords, eh? Who knew? And it seems you can't move in the universe for renegade Time Lords these days.
It's not a big dramatic classic like Genesis of the Daleks, sure. But even if for the comedy alone, it's a little gem.
MORAL: If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, you'll be a Time Lord, my son.
Tom Baker does an expert job of passing out drunkenly. Anyone would think he'd been practicing.
LET ME THROUGH, I'M AN OSTEOPATH
This must have been quite a demanding adventure physically. Poor old Stuart Fell's staggering around in the heavy monster costume, for a start. And we don't envy Condo having to carry the not-exactly-weedy Doctor, who then reciprocates by carrying the monster. Ouch.
A SENIOR MOMENT
After revealing to her sidekick that the flame is dying, Maren tells her to keep it quiet. Minutes later, Maren's blurting it out to the Doctor in front of the entire Sisterhood!
There's some sneaky cutting in the scene where the Doctor gets down off the pyre. We see him merrily toasting away, then they cut away to a shot of Maren, then the next thing we see is the Doctor sneaking out the door, which cunningly dodges the question of just how he got down and through the ring of women without being seen.
HE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE
Why would the Doctor take Solon's advice about Sarah's eyes when he knows Solon's got it in for both of them?
I CAN'T GET A WORD IN EDGEWAYS
After the Doctor says "A Time Lord can live on Karn without your knowledge", Maren steps on his next line.
THE UNKINDEST CUT
Morbius breaks the mirror in rage after seeing himself in it, possibly because of the discovery that Solon has neglected to provide him with genitalia.
TRUST ME, I'M A DOCTOR
What are "sear seizures", Solon?
THE ART OF DELEGATION
It's a monumentally stupid error leaving Solon on his own to do the surgery on the monster, and having the Doctor admit this doesn't excuse it. It's a horrible crime in the name of plot expediency. On the other hand, though, it does give us the lovely line "I'll be back... to count the pieces" followed by a magnificent door-slamming. Tom Baker has said that he can't come through a door sincerely (which we dispute anyway), but by God, he can certainly leave through one.
IT'S A GAS GAS GAS
How does the Doctor know that the duct leads into Solon's lab? And how come the cyanide isn't outgassing at least a bit into the room the Doctor and Sarah are in?
What's in it for Morbius to mindbend with the Doctor? Macho moron.
YOU KEEP MAKING THAT MISTAKE
It must have been tremendously difficult for poor Lis Sladen to keep finding new ways of sobbing over the Doctor's supposed corpse. No other companion gets stuck with this quite so often. (A Dead Doctor Detector, like the Robot Detector in the previous adventure, might have saved her a lot of grief. It certainly wouldn't have been any more stupid.)
Buy this Dr Who DVD: US